Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bigger Than Bell: $6.4 Million Embezzled From Pasadena

How'd they get all that money past Burger Boy?
I'm telling you, the place is in some kind of crazy fiduciary mess. The Pasadena Unified School District and its missing Measure Y and Measure TT bond money was bad enough. But that was just the PUSD, and people had gotten fairly used to that. No school bond issue since 2008 has passed, and for some very good reasons. They just don't have a record for keeping track of the peoples' money very well.

But apparently it isn't just the school district that leaks dollar bills faster than a Bruce Inman water main. Pasadena City Hall is just as bad. And what we're talking about here is $6.4 Million in hard earned taxpayer dollars that somehow flew out those big green copper doors like so many fleeing bats. With an actual and highly compensated Pasadena City Hall management employee (and yet another leisure-time Pastor no less), the agent of its disappearance.

It is quite a story, and the Pasadena Star News broke it big yesterday afternoon. The article is called "Pasadena ex-employee suspected of stealing $6M in city funds; scandal larger than Bell case," and you can read the entire article by clicking here.

Here are just a few of the juicy details:

Los Angeles County District Attorney’s investigators Tuesday arrested a former Pasadena city employee and two other people suspected of using a City Hall slush fund to embezzle more than $6 million in taxpayer dollars over a decade.
Danny "Fingers" Wooten

Danny Ray Wooten, 51, a preacher, and a former management analyst in the city’s Department of Public Works, was arrested with Tyrone Collins, 55, and Melody Jenkins, 46, a onetime assistant to Wooten. The three are named in a 60-count felony complaint. The allegations include embezzlement, conflict of interest and grand theft.

The alleged public corruption scheme spans more years and involves a larger sum of money than the Bell scandal where officials were caught misappropriating $5.5 million from the city of 35,000 residents.

Beginning in August 2003, officials said Wooten allegedly wrote nearly 300 fraudulent invoices to the city on behalf of four bogus vendors. In return the city issued 189 checks totalling $6.4 million.

“Clearly, this is a complete breakdown of our internal controls that would enable that to occur over that length of time,” City Manager Michael Beck said Tuesday.

And then there is this cruel assault on human logic and understanding:

At a hastily called news conference Tuesday afternoon in City Hall, Mayor Bill Bogaard, joined by Beck, City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris and city Spokesman William Boyer, said city officials would identify and repair weaknesses in its financial operations.

“I am confident, based on what I know about this case, based on my involvement in City Hall operations for over 15 years, based on my day-to-day working relationship with the city manager, that the city manager is well-positioned to deal with this situation and his executive leadership team is fully committed to help us recover a stronger organization,” Bogaard said.

Yeah, right. The very same dudes that were in charge of that afflicted city while Preacher Wooten allegedly smuggled $6.4 million dollars out of City Hall, and right under their snoozing snouts no less, are now going to fix everything.

Here is Danny Ray Wooten's wage and benefits profile, courtesy of Transparent California:

So get this. Danny Ray Wooten was making $131,621.89 a year with benefits included, but that apparently wasn't good enough for him. And the guy was a preacher, no less. Preacher Bling? It appears he could now find himself with over two decades in the pokey to consider that maybe he didn't have such a very bad deal after all.

Read the rest of the Star News article. It is some pretty stunning stuff.

The City of Pasadena just can't get weird enough
Peoples Republic of Pasadena?
Yesterday Frank Girardot, of Pasadena Star News fame, posted this picture on his Facebook page. Frank's implied question, illustrated by this photo, was something like: What is the flag of the Peoples Republic of China doing hanging in the Council Chambers of the City of Pasadena?

It is a good one to ask. A City Council Chambers is not a hotel lobby, nor a restaurant, or even an import car dealership. It is the place where the government of that city, under the aegis of this free and sovereign nation, takes place. Intermittently hostile foreign governments, especially those holding a trillion or so dollars in American debt and far too eager to further expand their influence, should not be represented in such a place of trust.

So what is the flag of the Peoples Republic of China doing there? Here are my 5 New Year's Eve guesses:

- The Chinese government has convinced the City of Pasadena that building the 710 Tunnel is in the best interests of both. It was a deal they couldn't refuse.

- Pasadena needed to peddle some bonds tout suite in order to deal with some of their huge pension driven debt problems. The flag is a show of gratitude to the buyer.

- The City of Pasadena has become an officially authorized vendor for Uncle Sam's Green Cards Inc., which are given to wealthy immigrants in exchange for $500,000 investments in things like the latest round of commercially dubious Pasadena mixed-use so-called green condo projects. The country that bought the most of these passes got to hang their flag in Council Chambers. China won by a mile.

- The PRC now owns enough of Pasadena for it to qualify as a dual citizenship city.

- The United States of America, hoping to pay off some of the $1.3 trillion dollars it owes to China, is handing over desirable California cities as debt payments. Pasadena now follows Arcadia in that category. If the PRC flag should show up in Sierra Madre's Council Chambers as well, then you will know that the deal is complete. The three cities will then be combined into a new governmental entity called Arcamadena.

If you have any better theories, please let me know.

We Wish Everyone the Happiest of New Years!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Los Angeles City Hall Corruption Leads To The Destruction Of The 100-Year-Old Oswald Bartlett House In Los Feliz

Ain't I special?
(Mod: The following article is up on the City Watch site, and it details a classic example of how big money and political influence peddling can lead to the destruction of historic landmarks, or even entire neighborhoods. Money, be it in the form of campaign donations or even the corrupting influence of development impact fees, are tools that can be used anywhere a developer wants to get it done. Something to keep in mind when the City Council considers a now very timely Moratorium on the Demolition of Older Structures on January 6.)

City Hall ‘Culture’ Aids the Death of Cultural Landmark (John link): LA DEATH WATCH - City Hall’s culture of tolerating rule-breaking, secrecy and special interest influence-peddling was on vivid display Saturday when a developer’s giant, house-killing backhoe demolished the 100-year-old, Oswald Bartlett House, a cultural landmark in Los Feliz.

It did not have to turn out this way.

In fact, an anonymous “philanthropist” was trying to buy the Bartlett and save it from destruction only hours before the backhoe began clawing the house into a pile of rubble. According to Doug Haines of the Hollywood Neighborhood Council, the potential buyer offered to purchase the Bartlett from developer Elan Mordoch for $1.5 million - twice what Mordoch originally paid for the property.

“The developer chose to be greedy and spiteful instead of a good neighbor,” said Haines. “Mordoch’s attorney (Ben Reznik) said he would sell only if the offer was in the $3 million range. In effect, Mordoch was ready to flip the property if he could quadruple his initial investment.”

The Bartlett House was - according to many independent experts - a cultural-historic treasure, a rare example of the early work of A.C. Martin, a leading architect who significantly contributed to the built-environment of this city during the first half of the 20th century. A half-dozen of Martin's works, including LA City Hall itself, are listed as official city landmarks.

Much of the responsibility for this unfortunate ending rests with the LA City Council.

Last Wednesday (Dec. 15) the City Council had the opportunity to declare the Bartlett an official “historic-cultural monument,” a designation that would have protected the house from immediately being razed. Designation would have introduced a major – but not insurmountable - impediment to Mordoch’s plan to build a six-unit townhouse project on the Bartlett site and possibly induced the developer to cut a deal with the anonymous buyer.

But the council voted to sign the Bartlett’s death warrant by denying it monument status.

But there’s more to this unfortunate saga.

If the council had declared the Bartlett a “monument” it would have sent a welcome and healthy message to Mordoch - and all developers - that there is a penalty to be paid for misleading the public and city officials about the impact of their projects.

The fact is that Mordoch failed to disclose in his early environmental documents - submitted to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) - that the Bartlett house was a "cultural resource.” Instead those documents dismissed the Bartlett as a non-descript “older single-family residence.”

For months, the truth about the Bartlett’s significance was a well-kept secret.

As a result, city planning officials operated in the dark. When they considered Mordoch's application for land-use entitlements (including zoning variances) for his project, these misinformed officials did not – as they should have - consider possible mitigations to protect even a shred of the cultural history threatened by the developer's project.

Similarly, Mordoch’s misleading environmental documents kept the public in the dark. If members of the community had known the truth about the Bartlett, they could have made their voices heard during the planning review process and demanded steps to mitigate the impact of Mordoch’s project on an important cultural resource.

More importantly, the developer's misleading environmental assessment prevented the community from making a timely request of the Cultural Heritage Commission to protect the house by designating it as a monument. Inarguably, the commission – which rejected designation - was strongly influenced by Mordoch’s argument that designation would unfairly interfere with his project after he had invested so much time, money and effort in securing his land-use entitlements.

But that argument rings hollow. It ignores the fact Mordoch obtained his entitlements – with all his time, money and effort – with a misleading environmental assessment.

The Bartlett’s death was also a victory for backroom influence-peddling.

Bartlett supporters – after belatedly learning of the Bartlett's significance –found themselves playing against a stacked deck.

When supporters urged the Cultural Heritage Commission to declare the house a monument, the developer's ally, Gabriel Eshaghian, reportedly threatened to use his political influence with Mayor Garcetti's office to block such a designation.

Make no mistake, Eshaghian has clout. He contributed to Garcetti’s campaign for mayor and co-hosted two fund-raisers for Garcetti, one at Jimmy Kimmel’s house, the other at his own home (rich irony: Eshaghian’s saves about $15,000 a year in property taxes on his own home because it is a city-designated monument).  Eshaghian is now, unsurprisingly, a Garcetti-appointee on the city's powerful Airport Commission.

The mayor's aides, according to multiple witnesses, also made their objections to landmark status for the house loudly known to Councilman Tom LaBonge when LaBonge - in whose district the Bartlett is located – initially offered to help save the house. Perhaps that push-back from the mayor explains LaBonge's subsequent lackluster efforts to protect the Bartlett and finally his support for its demolition.

It was also revealed that Garcetti's office – at the very least - signaled the Cultural Heritage Commission staff that it was interested in how the commission (all Garcetti appointees) was handling the Bartlett monument application. Did that have any effect? The commission’s chief says no. But Bartlett supporters are unconvinced.

The death of the Bartlett signifies more than the loss of an irreplaceable cultural asset. It also represents another triumph for City Hall’s own troubling ‘culture’ that tolerates rule-breaking, secrecy and influence-peddling.

Eric's got pensions to pay. ABC News video and story linked here.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

How Would You Like To Oversee A Few Hundred Million Dollars In PUSD Measure TT Bond Money?

Pretty much how it gets done
Here is an opportunity to get involved in something interesting that just might make a real difference. That is, if you are a really hard-nosed noodge about it. Apparently the Pasadena Unified School District is required by state law to endure the presence of unpaid citizen volunteers tasked with overseeing how they are spending your $350 million dollars in bond money, raised through the passage of Measure TT by the voters in 2008. And now they have to go out and beat the bushes looking for new recruits for this Citizen Oversight Committee. Oh, the pain! This from the always informative and fun to read Altadena Point (link):

The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) is seeking applicants to fill current vacancies on the Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which is responsible for ensuring accountability of work funded by Measure TT, the school improvement bond approved by voters in November 2008. The committee meets regularly to review spending, financial and performance audits, and the efforts of District staff to maximize bond revenues and minimize costs.

Under California’s Proposition 39, school bonds like Measure TT are required to establish Citizens’ Oversight Committees. The committee must consist of at least seven members who serve without compensation and are appointed by the Board of Education for no more than three consecutive two- year terms. School officials or employees, consultants, vendors or contractors of the District cannot serve on the committee. The oversight committee must include the following:

•             One member representing the business community

•             One senior citizens organization member

•             One active member of a bona fide taxpayer association

•             A parent or guardian of a child enrolled in PUSD

•             A parent or guardian of a child enrolled in PUSD. This parent must be active in a PTA or school site council

•             Other members as desired

You may download an application at Completed applications must be submitted no later than 4:00 p.m. on January 6, 2015 to:

The link provided by the PUSD takes you to a lot of photo rich public relations stuff about touring building sites and other fun junkets designed to fill hours that might otherwise be spent doing dangerous things. Like actually looking at how that bond money is being spent. To skip all of that nonsense and go directly to the application itself, click here.

Personally I think this is a pretty good opportunity for the fiscally aware and numerically skilled individual of social conscience to do something really valuable for the community. After all, property owners living within the borders of the PUSD will be paying off Measure TT (with beaucoup interest) for the next half century of so. Somebody with a skeptical eye really should be taking a look at all of this.

While you are there perhaps you could also look into the following mess, which is detailed in this 2008 Pasadena Star News article (link). Apparently nobody knows to this day how it all turned out. Somehow it all just got buried up and forgotten.

PASADENA - A prosecutor who reviewed allegations that a contractor bilked Pasadena Unified School District out of $80,000 said Tuesday the district's records were so confusing, officials could not determine whether a crime was committed.

District officials said the investigation was tied to missing funds from Measure Y, which voters approved in 1997 to fix up schools.

"Looking at the records they had, we could not conclude what work he did and what work other contractors did," said John A. Perlstein, a prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Pasadena police officials asked Perlstein to look at the district's documents after PUSD officials leveled allegations against Eric Peterson, a project manager for contractor Pacifica Services IncOfficials suspected Pacifica improperly billed the district for work that was never completed.

After reviewing district documents provided to his office by the Pasadena Police Department, however, Perlstein declined to file charges. "They provided the records and we were supposed to guess what was done and was not done," he said Tuesday.

Just so you know the kinds of stuff you might be getting yourself into. Since the PUSD does find record keeping challenging, you obviously will have your work cut out for you.

So where's the "Community Preservation" part?
I was poking around the City of Sierra Madre website looking for something else (didn't find it), when I came across the following somewhat incomplete information.

I get all the stuff about "planning and zoning" and "building and safety." But where is the part about Community Preservation? Anybody know?

Sacramento wants you to get over those low gas prices
In case you were not aware, a new gas tax kicks in on January 1st. So don't go getting too used to paying less than $3 bucks a gallon for gas. But you needn't worry, like so many other things the state takes away from you, it is being done to save the world. No, really. This from the Costa Mesa Times (link):

California fuel prices going up as its green-house gas controls hit gasoline, diesel sales - After months of seeing gas prices sink ever lower, Californians will ring in 2015 by paying more at the pump as a result of the state's landmark greenhouse-gas emissions law.

But how much more we'll pay, and whether it's worth it, remains bitterly debated among oil companies, some state lawmakers and environmentalists.

Starting Thursday, gasoline and diesel producers will be subject to the state's cap-and-trade system, forcing them either to supply lower-carbon fuels -- which are more expensive to produce -- or to buy pollution permits for the greenhouse gases created when the conventional fuel they supply is burned. In the short term, at least, that will mean higher prices at the pump, starting almost immediately.

"My understanding from the economists that we've talked to is that it will be very quick, sometime in January -- if not on the first, then shortly thereafter," said Dave Clegern, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

Opposition groups backed by the oil industry have claimed prices will rise 16 to 76 cents per gallon, although that's admittedly based on an underlying price of about $4 per gallon -- far higher than recent prices. A UC-Berkeley energy and economics expert says it'll be more like nine or ten cents per gallon, which supporters say isn't so high a price to pay for the environmental good it will do.

So here is my question. How does creating a brand new gas tax (it really is a tax, you know) do any worthwhile environmental good? I'm not certain I see the connection.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Does Metro Want Men To Cross Their Legs While Riding The Gold Line?

This one would have to be considered quite unbelievable under normal circumstances, except that you should never see it like that. There is very little in this world that is not believable if you think about it, and what some people feel are normal circumstances are more often than not just coincidence. You really do need to keep an open mind to stupidity in this life, and the vacuous output of large government bureaucracies in particular. They are all around us these days, and you got to keep an eye out. Oh, and your wallet safely in your front pocket as well.

Metro, the vast transportation bureaucracy that likes to claim it keeps the trains and buses running on time, is also amongst those unhinged protean forces pushing for the 710 Tunnel. And like so many of that ilk they are beholden to nobody but the big moneyed interests whose favor they work so very hard to win. Both from here and abroad. They're really not all that different from many politicians in that regard. They will happily sell you out in a heartbeat if it furthers their financial agenda.

Average citizens, whose tax money sustains these folks in their well-salaried and comfortably pensioned careers, are considered to be little more than a marketing problem. Which is why Metro maintains its own information and news compendium called The Source. Here you can find daily evidence of just how Metro views the world, along with its very important place in it. It's all very self-celebratory stuff.

Which is where I found the following story. Titled "A scourge is spreading! MTA’s cure: Dude, close your legs," it deals with something that has become known as "man-spreading." Here is how Metro gets their crazy going (link and scroll down):

In the wake of Johnny T’s viral video on proper etiquette on the New York City Subway (warning: some mildly offensive language, etc.), the NYT runs on a story on man-spreading and has a simply awesome video interview with Johnny T, who happens to be a puppet. 

The article looks at those who are pushing back against men who feel the need to treat the subway as if it’s their couch and/or lounge chair and/or ManCave. That list includes the New York MTA, which has debuted a new poster.

The video that Metro is gushing about, mildly raunchy language and all, can be linked to by clicking here. But a more interesting version is found here.

This is a portion of the New York Times article Metro cites so reverentially (link):

It is the bane of many female subway riders. It is a scourge tracked on blogs and on Twitter. And it has a name almost as distasteful as the practice itself. It is man-spreading, the lay-it-all-out sitting style that more than a few men see as their inalienable underground right.

Now passengers who consider such inelegant male posture as infringing on their sensibilities — not to mention their share of subway space — have a new ally: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Taking on manspreading for the first time, the authority is set to unveil public service ads that encourage men to share a little less of themselves in the city’s ever-crowded subways cars.

Riding the F train from Brooklyn to Manhattan on a recent afternoon, Fabio Panceiro, 20, was unapologetic about sitting with his legs spread apart. “I’m not going to cross my legs like ladies do,” he said. “I’m going to sit how I want to sit.”

And what if Mr. Panceiro, an administrative assistant from Los Angeles, saw posters on the train asking him to close his legs? “I’d just laugh at the ad and hope that someone graffitis over it,” he said.

For Kelley Rae O’Donnell, an actress who confronts man-spreaders and tweets photos of them, her solitary shaming campaign now has the high-powered help of the transportation authority, whose ads will be plastered inside subway cars.

“It drives me crazy,” she said of men who spread their legs. “I find myself glaring at them because it just seems so inconsiderate in this really crowded city.”

When Ms. O’Donnell, who lives in Brooklyn and is in her 30s, asks men to move, she said, they rarely seem chastened: “I usually get grumbling or a complete refusal.”

Here is the thing. Having lived and worked in New York City for more than a few years I know how crowded and unpleasant subway commuting can be. They're generally awful places, and much of my distaste for public transportation comes from years of having to put up with such misery. When I moved out here I gladly bought a car and never once looked back.

I know that in Los Angeles things like the Gold Line are often talked about like they are the second coming, especially by Metro. But it isn't the case. They're just small uncomfortable trains with extremely limited and largely inconvenient routes.

So here's the good news. Since the Gold Line (or 210 Trolly as I often call it) doesn't go anywhere very useful except perhaps downtown Los Angeles, not that many people ride it. Sometimes you can get a trolly car almost to yourself. You can freely stretch out on those small and quite hard plastic seats and at least attempt to get comfortable.

Which is why I cannot understand what Metro is getting all excited about. Train crowding is generally not that much of a problem here. Besides, riding public transportation is degrading enough already without some angry emasculating jerk with a digital camera and a Twitter account telling you to cross your legs. Or else.

Like I said, you have to keep an open mind to the madness. There is just so much of it around.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Does Anybody Know What Methodology Is Used For Codifying City Of Sierra Madre Website Searches?

I've been puzzled about this one for quite some time, yet I have never asked the question here. What methodology (or rubric if you prefer that term) was put into place to organize information searches on the City of Sierra Madre website? Because through the use of keywords, which is the most common way of accessing information on any website, whatever information you hope to pull up on the site is often not what you get. Sometimes the results can be random, or even bizarre, but rarely useful. I suspect that many site users here have found the experience to be as frustrating and off-putting as I have when doing their own research.

So I thought we'd look into this a little. Let's use the words "public safety" as an example of a possible CoSM website search. According to the website U.S. (link), the definition of "public safety" is as follows:

Public Safety refers to the welfare and protection of the general public. It is usually expressed as a governmental responsibility. Most states have departments for public safety. The primary goal of the department is prevention and protection of the public from dangers affecting safety such as crimes or disasters. In many cases the public safety division will be comprised of individuals from other organizations including police, emergency medical services, fire force etc.

On November 25th of this year Sierra Madre Chief of Police Larry Giannone gave a presentation to the City Council on the possibilities of establishing a Public Safety Commission. The term "public safety" was at the heart of this City Council deliberation, as becomes obvious when reading the following passages from the Chief's report.

By my count the term "public safety" is used 12 times alone in just this one short passage from the Chief's presentation. To access any additional useful information regarding Chief Giannone's talk, please click here.

Now let's say you are working on your own report to further investigate the possibility of reorganizing the Police, Fire and Paramedic Services of Sierra Madre in a more proactive and community oriented way. Perhaps you favor the "Public Safety Commission" idea, but feel you need more information in order to understand the issues a little more clearly. Obviously the City of Sierra Madre website would seem to be a good resource for such a search.

Using the keywords "public safety" for your search, here are the results that turn up:

Nothing much there, right? You can try this with any number of topics and I think you will find that more times than not the results you get are random and not readily organized into any easily defined categories, and therefore not very useful.

Compare the above results with those you can find on the City of Monrovia website (link), the City of Pasadena website (link), and the City of San Dimas website (link). Obviously it can be done.

So my questions are these. What methodology was used for codifying information searches on the City of Sierra Madre website? And assuming that the information is there, how might it be made more readily accessible to site users?

Considering the taxpayer money that was invested in this site, things should be a lot better than they are.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Is It Your Patriotic Duty To See A Movie This Holiday?

I took the family to see The Interview yesterday. I bought my tickets the day before, just to make sure we got in. All of us wanted to go, so why take a chance on something like that? Who knows what the consequences could have been if we didn't get seats. Disappointed kids being one of the things parents live in fear of at Christmas. While this isn't the real reason for the season, it does move business along. Some think that is more important.

When I did get there a day early they'd already sold out half of the theater for a first showing at 11:00 in the morning. It probably wasn't the worst idea I've had this Christmas season. That would have been the Water Pik toothbrushes for the kids. The joy and happiness of good dental hygiene is apparently lost on some people.

The theater where I bought the tickets was The Regency in Azusa. Which, I'll admit now, was a good place to see a movie. Part of a small independent cinema chain, they feature lots of leg room, free refills on soft drinks, and ticket prices that are a couple of bucks less than the big time outfits. They're kind of like what movie houses were before the advent of the Cinema 50 MegaPlex. Or whatever those other places are called. They have one at Santa Anita Mall. I wouldn't go there at gunpoint.

I don't go this far out of my way to see movies often, but the distribution of The Interview was a little different than with most films. That was determined by North Korea, who had taken some special pains to try and discourage people from seeing it. They apparently hacked their way into the computer systems at Sony Pictures, and then posted what they'd stolen all over the Internet. And while the embarrassing e-mails from company executives talking smack about spoiled and overpaid movie actors were amusing, the North Koreans probably should have stopped there. I'm not certain that making social security numbers and health records of employees available to the world won them much sympathy.

Then there was also the threat of terrorism, which caused some of the big movie chains to flee. This also led to Sony Pictures pulling the film altogether, at least for a little while. The President of the United States got involved, corporate arms were twisted, the Internet of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea was mysteriously yanked down, stuff like that.

As far as movie prerelease publicity goes, this was some pretty heady stuff. I do marketing for a fairly large music entertainment company, and I must confess we have never been able to pull off something quite like that. One of our artists did perform at the White House recently. Seems like small potatoes now.

Kim Jong Un and movie critics agree, The Interview stinks
'I hear the critics said it is not very good.'
Let me say this straight out, I thought the movie was hilarious. So did my family. I can also tell you that we're going back to see it again. We'll do things like that once in a while. Why not? As I recall we saw Borat three times. We try to make certain that we don't miss any of the more subtle and finer points of the cinematic comedies we enjoy.

Like I said, the show we went to yesterday was sold out, and once the movie was over everybody there stood up and cheered. Loudly. And from all of the articles I've been reading this evening, that has pretty much been the case everywhere. People are lining up early, tickets have become hard to come by, and the folks in the street are telling anyone who will listen just how much fun they had. Here is how CBS Los Angeles describes the excitement (link):

Enthusiastic Crowds Lining Up For ‘The Interview’ In Theaters Across LA - The highly anticipated release of Sony Pictures Entertainment's “The Interview” opened in theaters Thursday in Los Angeles County. 

Sony originally announced the cancellation of the controversial film last week, which stars James Franco and Seth Rogen, after several of the largest movie theater chains refused to show it. The fictional story focuses around plans to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, which sparked the controversial attack.

While critics generally lambasted the film, KCAL9’s political reporter Dave Bryan found enthusiastic fans on Christmas day and evening. He reported from outside the Crest Theater where he said a long line stretched down the block on a blustery night in Westwood.

“I wasn’t planning to see it,” said one woman, “but no tinhorn dictator is going to tell me what second-rate comedy I can’t go and see!”

The on-line movie information service, IMDb (Internet Movie Database), which bases its numbers on the votes of people just like you and I, rates this film very highly. Here is a screen shot.

That shows us some fairly strong popular support. And as you can see, after much careful thought and consultation with experts in the art form, I decided to give it a 10.

However, the movie critics are decidedly in disagreement with me. Bob Strauss, who writes for local dailies such as the Los Angeles Daily News and Pasadena Star News, panned the hell out of The Interview. And both of these papers actually ran that review on the front page of their Christmas editions. So yes, you do get the feeling they felt it was very important to express some umbrage over this film.

In a review titled "The Interview not funny enough for all the drama," here is a portion of the awful things Film Critic Strauss has to say (link):

Unfortunately, it grieves me to report that “The Interview” just ain’t very funny.

Since I have often defended Rogen’s limited but amusing acting talents and stoner bromance sensibilities, I’m sad to say that the movie lacks the kind of laughs you’d (now) expect from such a hard-fought film. It’s not real clever, either; for a guy who’s last two star vehicles were semi-inspired takes on the Apocalypse (“This Is the End”) and frat farces (“Neighbors”), “The Interview” is a lazy, poorly targeted disappointment.

By poorly targeted, I don’t mean the concept was irresponsible. I’m firmly in favor of free expression no matter how much trouble it makes. What’s not lined up right here is what little satirical success the film can claim. It’s better when it’s making fun of American media than it is at undermining repression.

There is one thing that Bob Strauss and I differ on for sure. I'm not certain that any comedy film's responsibility is "undermining repression." Or saving the world, for that matter. If entertainment was a cure for the world's ills, wouldn't all of that protest music back in the 1960s halted the Vietnam War a decade or so earlier? Has Neil Young saved the family farm yet? Or convinced you to run your car on bacon grease?

And shouldn't Bob Geldof and Michael Jackson have finally ended world hunger by now? We are the world, as they say. We are the people, too.

I'm wondering if maybe Bob Strauss did go to Woodstock after all.

Is it your Patriotic Duty to see a Certain Movie this Holiday?
That is something the San Francisco Chronicle is asking their readers right now. Here is how they decided to put it (link):

Bay Area moviegoers see 'Interview’ as 'patriotic duty’ - World harmony came on Christmas when the great peoples of America and North Korea decided they both were being made to look like idiots in equal measure on the big screen.

“The Interview,” the movie comedy that sparked an international kerfuffle, opened for business and did a lot of it. Many ticket buyers said they probably would have skipped the picture but for the fuss over it raised in recent days by such unlikely publicists as the State Department, the North Korean government and President Obama.

“This is the greatest publicity stunt ever promulgated in the history of advertising,” said Allen Leggett of Berkeley, who was standing in line in south Berkeley for the noon screening. Like his fellow popcorn buyers, he said he wasn’t scared by threats.

At the Rialto there were no incidents, except when a Chronicle reporter accidentally knocked over a wooden “no parking” sign and the resulting bang echoed down College Avenue and made a handful of patrons jump and gaze around.

“Sounded like a gunshot to me,” said Carrie Joy, from San Pablo. “Wow.” After calming down, she said it was an honor to “stand up for our rights” for the price of a movie ticket. She said she was more scared of the next earthquake than an anti-stoner-movie terrorist plot.

David Hanks of Oakland said freedom of speech was “sacred” and that Christmas was a “good day to defend sacred things.”

So is it really your patriotic duty to see The Interview? Are you going to end the international war on free speech by heading on over to Azusa and buying yourself a movie ticket? Are YOU the world? Are YOU the people?

Nah. Your movie choices this weekend won't make much of a difference. No more than Bob Dylan did when he laid down his weary tune about the Vietnam War over the course of 10 or so albums.

Go and see The Interview because you'll get to laugh loud and long at one of the strangest and most brutal despots on the planet today.

That should be enough for anyone.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Informative Infographic On L.A. County Pay Disparities

I received the following from Robert Fellner at Transparent yesterday. He puts these infographics together and sends them out to the world so people can get a real close look at just how badly out of whack government employee compensation has gotten in certain rather poorly managed cities.

You may recall some of the similar charts he created for Sierra Madre last spring when the latest round of utility tax increases was on the ballot. It is a pretty good service for those who work in the private sector, folks that are often not receiving quite as much in salary and benefits as those supposedly working for them.

I've used the word "supposedly" because in many ways the servants have now become the masters, and you could be working to pay their way for the rest of your life.

You may also recall that one of the arguments put forward by the City Manager of Sierra Madre favoring employee raises is that what we are paying here is not in line with what other jurisdictions are paying for similar work. And that unless we raised taxes in order to pay our employees more, they might leave.

Which begs this question: How much more than what the average Sierra Madrean makes should we be giving to City Hall employees? You know, like it is done in Los Angeles, El Segundo and other area cities? Is that how good city government is maintained these days? By economically privileging employees above and beyond what the average taxpayer makes?

In 2014 some relatively senior city employees here did actually walk. Former Mayor Nancy Walsh brought this up during her most recent talk to the City Council, and seemed quite irate about it. So now that a month or two has gone by, is it possible to gauge just how much the city has suffered because of this?

I personally have not noticed much of a change. Have you?

Someone who did not have much fun visiting Sierra Madre

Mod: I don't know if you spend much time on Yelp!, but it can be amusing in an odd sort of way. This is a site where the man in the street gets to review whatever his heart desires. Businesses, cities, and anything else. It is all up for grabs, and some of these reviews can be unintentionally hilarious. Here is how a "Yelper" named "Paul R," from Mountain Home, Idaho, reviewed his visit to Sierra Madre.

So I decided to have a nice day off adventure taking the advice of LA Magazine and ride my bike to Sierra Madre with the help of the Gold Line

After riding up the hill from the station to the town proper I was greeted by a woman with a stroller and baby who I think was texting the cops as I was sitting in the city park.  Apparently I was subject to suspicion for being shady. Not dressed like a hobo I decided there was nothing to worry about and went about my business.

I have been all over the world and have never had a reaction so swift to my just being there. I was leaving the park as a police vehicle pulled up. Luckily I was taking a picture of the town cannon as it drove by me on its way to save the woman from something.  

Had a lovely time at Lucky Baldwins with a great group of musicians who I assume play weekly for fun and nothing else. Went to Buccanneer to close out the nite round 7; my old band had played there years before and I wanted to revisit.  

Leaving the bar in good spirits I headed home around 8 on my bicycle, which was really the reason I came; to get some exercise and not drive drunk. About a block away from the Old Town I was stopped by a policeman for not having a headlight on my bike. Ok, my bad, I forgot to put it on in my haste to make the ride home.   

Basically I was shook down and the guy took my new eighth of grass which I did not have my paperwork for to make it legal and gave me a ticket. Both he and his partner were looking for other reasons to cite me, but as I was still somewhat of sound mind and speech they could do nothing else. 

Afterwards, shaken, without the calming effects of my medicine and the many beers at Lucky Baldwin's. I did an almighty faceplant between the town and the station and came up broken and bloody with a nice flap where my chin used to be.  

My advice ... don't go to Sierra Madre expecting to have any sort of fun. They have outlawed it and the pod people are coming for you. It is no coincidence that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was filmed there, the brainless and boring are alive and well in Sierra Madre.  

See you in court where I will get the ticket dismissed but probably not my grass. 20 miles away from LA there is a town stuck in the 1950s, and I won't be going back. Those times were quaint then but ridiculous now. Stay free if you can.

Mod: You can't please everyone. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Not Every City Surrendered Its Sex Offender Ordinance

As you may recall from previous articles, in December of 2013 the City of Sierra Madre quietly surrendered its Sex Offender Ordinance in Court to an organization called California Reform Sex Offender Laws.

The CA RSOL is a group of folks that likes to believe registered sex offenders are victims of civil rights discrimination, and therefore a special class of individuals that needs to be liberated from the tyranny of having to live with the full consequences of their horrific crimes. We covered this topic in depth on December 7th in an article we called "A Couple Of Things City Attorney Teresa Highsmith Forgot To Tell You About The Demise Of Sierra Madre's Sex Offender Ordinance." You can link to it by clicking here.

Many other cities have surrendered their sex offender ordinances in Court as well, and Sierra Madre is hardly alone in this regard. Apparently when each of these localities weighed the potential legal costs of defending their ordinances, as opposed to what such legislation was designed to protect children from, these cities went with the money every time. I guess they figured they had more important things to spend it on. Like SCAG and SGVCOG dues. Or, in our case, $37,000 a year municipal employee health care plans.

Sierra Madre's City Attorney, Teresa Highsmith, writing for a wonky League of California Cities publication called Western City, actually does advise other cities to follow the same path she enabled behind the scenes here. Which is speedy surrender, done without a fight. The article is called "The Better Part of Valor: Amending Local Sex Offender Ordinances," and you can access it here.

This is what Teresa recommends:

A series of lawsuits against California cities has brought the issue of sex offenders in the community back to many city agendas and local public meetings. Two recent decisions by the California Court of Appeal and a case pending before the California Supreme Court effectively limit cities’ ability to enforce local ordinances regulating registered sex offenders who live in their jurisdictions. Few city officials or residents favor the idea of repealing an ordinance intended to protect children from predators, but many cities with such ordinances are being forced to do just that as a result of legal challenges. By moving quickly and carefully, city councils can address the appellate rulings and avoid paying for the privilege of repealing their ordinances.

Like Sierra Madre, this has pretty much been the practice of nearly every city in California that had a Sex Offender Ordinance. Rather than fight to preserve something they had once believed in enough to enact, each of them bailed out tout suite when challenged in court by the CA RSOL organization.

There is a notable exception however, and that is the City of Carson. The following article, originally published last September, is from a newspaper called The Daily Breeze. It can be linked to here.

Carson vows to ‘go to war’ to keep sex offender restrictions Carson’s political leaders are prepared to throw the city’s weight — and its bank account — behind a legal and legislative battle to maintain control over where sex offenders are allowed to visit and live in the city.

Council members voted 5-0 on Tuesday night to direct staff to push for state legislation that would protect the city’s ability to ban sex offenders from visiting day-care centers, libraries and other areas where children gather, and to restrict where sex offenders may live in relation to areas visited by kids.

The California Supreme Court this year let stand a lower court ruling invalidating local laws aimed at restricting the movement of sex offenders, saying the state has authority on this issue. As a result, roughly 75 municipalities that adopted local restrictions have since been removing them from their codes to avoid lawsuits.

But not in Carson. “We have to go to war,” Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes said. “And, when we step out, we want (other cities) to join us in this fight because this is going to be a big fight. We want to keep this at the forefront.”

Carson wants to maintain its provisions that registered sex offenders must remain 300 feet away from identified “child-safety zones,” such as day-care centers, libraries, swimming pools and commercial establishments that have a children’s playground or school bus stop. State law only prevents them from loitering at parks and schools.

The city also doesn’t allow sex offenders to live together in a hotel or motel room, or to live within 2,000 feet of a school or park, or within 300 feet of a child-care center. Jessica’s Law requires that they live at least 2,000 feet from schools and parks.

There is another Southern California jurisdiction that has resisted the CA RSOL's efforts to make child molesting politically correct, and that is San Bernardino County. In an article called "Pair seeks repeal of sex-offender laws in California," the San Bernardino Sun shared this information (link):

San Bernardino County ... has no intention of repealing or amending its ordinance, which not only imposes strict residency and presence restrictions for sex offenders, but also prohibits them from having their porch lights on between 5 p.m. and midnight on Halloween night, passing out candy to children or decorating their homes.

“I’m going to stand strong for the children. I think their rights are far more worth salvaging than those of individuals who abuse them and ruin their lives,” said San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt, who played a pivotal role in the shaping and evolving of the county’s sex-offender ordinance over the years.

You have to wonder what it must be like to live in a place with the kinds of strong political leadership needed to stand up and fight for something this important. You know, a city that would make the protection of its children as high a priority as, let's say, raising utility taxes or water rates?

I guess we'll never really know.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Narcotecture: The Other McMansions

We have been discussing McMansions here a bit over the last month or so. The reason being so many of these things are being built down in Arcadia that it is only a matter of time before they start sprouting up in greater earnest here.

Or so many fear. As we know, the folks building them are not as local as some believe. There is a lot of cash coming into our corner of the world from China in particular, with much of it being illegal at the source. The word of choice for the transit of all that wealth is smuggling, though embezzlement is often used by the interested overseas parties as well. And since there is no extradition treaty between the United States and the Peoples Republic of China (a kind of cold war relic), all of that cash is welcomed here in a warm and caring way. And apparently with no strings attached. 

You are welcome to come along with your  money as well, just as long as you have enough of that embezzled stuff to make yourself interesting to our government. And once you've made the trip, you can pretty much build whatever you like here. All you need to do is find localities that privilege and enable your kinds of cash driven needs over the less glamorous concerns of the locals. Who often have barely enough money to pay their taxes.

Arcadia (and perhaps soon Sierra Madre), serves as a kind of sanctuary for multi-millionaire refugees fleeing the cheap labor republic where they made all of their money. Something that must seem like ingratitude to the folks back home, especially those running the government. So great is their pique in Beijing these days that they have begun arresting some of the worst offenders and putting them on trial for corruption, sexual misconduct, and worse. Something that is apparently a very popular form of televised entertainment there. Kind of like the NFL is to us.

However, there is another source of enthusiasm for McMansions, and that would be the so-called  Narco states of South America and South Asia. Places where vast new fortunes are being made in the drug trade daily. And as with a lot of folks from similarly rough and rude backgrounds, ostentatious displays of their new found wealth are simply a must. And, just like here, that means McMansions.

The term for McMansions built for the likes of drug lords and narcotics smugglers is Narcotecture. Which is kind of a cool word that does impress. Or at least it impresses me. Here is how the always essential Urban Dictionary defines it (link):

Narcotecture - n. - (nahr-coh-tek-shur)- The style of structure (most commonly large residences) built by large-scale distributors of illegal narcotics. This style includes many exits, ostentatious extravagance, and other features that are either practical for a fugitive or large-scale drug dealers, or classic signs of nouveau riche. Common in illegal narcotics hubs such as Bogota, Colombia, and Kabul, Afghanistan.

A rather luridly illustrated blog (in a murderous and gory drug criminal kind of way) called Ironiclast is also interested in Narcotecture, and they have their own interesting take. As a word of warning, if you choose to click on the link I am about to provide you, a few of the pictures you will find there are pretty gruesome. Drug lords having decorum issues that some living in Sierra Madre would abhor (link).

THE RISE OF NARCOTECTURE What is it?  What is -- Narcotecture?  Narcotecture is a term used to describe the gaudy mansions, homes and burial shrines -- yes, burial shrines, built by powerful drug lords in both South America and Afghanistan using illicit drug funds.

Drug cartels have never been more powerful than they are now.  Neither can it be said have they been more dangerous.  When President Nixon created the DEA and with it, the "war on drugs," they effectively shut down the distribution channels in Columbia.  This didn't stop production, however.  They still produce copious amounts of cocaine, but they leave the distribution part to the violent cartels in Mexico.  Now, Mexico is essentially a "narco state" and the blood runs red in the streets at a swiftly moving northern current into the United States.

It's a shame that all of the money and influence these cartels garner does little more than build these Narco palaces, but it can't be understated how much gruesome, barbaric violence used to instill fear in their people make dissenting voices impossible.

Another interesting source for information on Narcotecture is the military newspaper Stars and Stripes (link). In the following article they discuss the drug funded McMansions of Kabul, Afghanistan. This in a country where we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, plus the irreplaceable lives of many of our military men and women, to prop up.

It is sad to see that some of the end results of all that sacrifice and misery aren't quite what we might have hoped for.

Garishly incongruous ‘poppy palaces’ lure affluent Afghans - For rent on Street 6 in the neighborhood of Sherpur: a four-story, 11-bedroom dwelling of pink granite and lime marble, complete with massage showers, a rooftop fountain and, in the basement, an Asian-themed nightclub. Price: $12,000 a month.

It’s a relative bargain in this district favored by former warlords and bureaucrats — Kabul’s version of Beverly Hills. There’s a war on, but carnival-colored mansions are mushrooming alongside cratered streets and sewage streams. Vast outdoor chandeliers, heated indoor pools and acres of mirrored, skyscraper glass windows abound.

The grandiose houses, derided here as narcotecture, have become the most obvious symbols of Afghanistan’s corruption, which ranks among the world’s worst and is fueled both by an enormous influx of U.S. dollars and by the opium trade. They have paralleled a building boom sweeping this and other Afghan cities, fed by the donor money that has helped distort an economy of haves and have-nots.

I have selected a few examples of Narcotecture, both the South American and Afghani varieties. I think you will agree that some are not really all that different from the local McMansions already being built here in the San Gabriel Valley.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Forbes Magazine: The Ugliest McMansion In America Poll

Forbes Magazine posted an article about McMansions that was not meant to flatter the genre. And an unassociated site, SodaHead, in a shameless bid for web traffic I suppose, has been running an on-line poll to determine which of these McMansions is the truly the ugliest of them all.

There are seven finalists, and as fate would have it, one of them is from our neighbor down the hill, Arcadia. We thought it would be a fine idea to post pictures of these finalists so that you will get an opportunity to pick up on all the excitement of true Internet competition. Here is how Forbes Magazine describes what is at stake (link):

Architectural beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but some mansions are just plain ugly. Blots on the landscape, oversize and over-the-top mega homes are sometimes a pricey mishmash of building styles. They look garish, gaudy and full of pretension, festooned with too many fancy columns and adornments. Or, under the guise of ‘modern,’ these residences have as much style as a bomb shelter or look like they’re from outer space. Money, after all, doesn’t buy taste.

At the bottom of this post we are providing a link that will take you to the SodaHead on-line polling station. Vote, and please, vote often.

Here is the link to the polling station. You will need to scroll down a little bit to find the proper place to cast your vote.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Arcadia Weekly: Arcadia Council Deals a Blow to Builders

(Mod: The Arcadia Weekly is a sister paper of the Sierra Madre Weekly, both of which are products of Beacon Media out of Monrovia. This article also appeared on Thursday in our local version, so perhaps you have already had a look at this reasonably good news. If not, then I suggest you head downtown and grab yourself a copy. The Weekly is always an informative read. And let's face it, if Arcadia's city government can respond positively to public anger over McMansions, then maybe the world really can turn upside down. Even here in Sierra Madre. Written by Lynne Curry, in my mind there are questions that still remain. Was this decision too little too late, and is the overall damage to Highland Oaks - and Arcadia in general - already too far gone?)

Arcadia Council Deals a Blow to Builders (link): In a unanimous vote, the Arcadia City Council backed irate homeowners and dealt a blow to builders in the city seeking to tear down existing houses and replace them with enormous mansions. At a public hearing in its moderately filled chamber, the City Council agreed with the Planning Commission’s decision to uphold the ruling of the Highlands Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and rejected the developer’s appeal. The Highlands HOA’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) had denied design plans for a new nearly 7,000 square-foot two-story single-family residence at 211 Monte Place, a cul-de-sac off of Canyon Road. ARB had turned down the builder’s plans on grounds that the proposed home was “incompatible in mass and scale to the surrounding buildings in the neighborhood.”

According to Highlands HOA statistics, the majority of the homes in the Highlands area are less than 5,000 square feet.
Hog Heaven: A 16,538 square foot KVH special

In front of a group of unhappy Highland homeowners and City Council members, Kurt Von Hatten, the project designer of KVH Design Group, argued that he and his staff had made significant adjustments to their plan to take into consideration resident concerns about the massive scale of the proposed home. Some of Mr. Von Hatten’s suggested modifications included increasing the home’s setback from the nearby hillside, moving the entire house further away from the curb than the existing house, placing the three-car garage as far back on the lot as possible, and putting the driveway on the side of the home.

However, City Council members didn’t buy Mr. Von Hatten’s arguments. They expressed concern that Mr. Von Hatten had not adequately consulted the neighbors about the house’s proposed square footage nor had the developer adhered to safety issues by proposing building within such close proximity of a hillside, given the possibility of the danger of mud slides.

“It bothered me that the developer did not want to meet the neighbors, appease the neighbors, or compromise, because the neighbors will still be there when the developer sells the house,” said Tom Beck, Council member. “It makes no sense to build so close to a hillside . . .”

Added John Wuo, Arcadia’s mayor, “I used to live on a hillside. Sometimes things happen you can’t anticipate. If this were 30,000 [square feet] and you build 7,000 square feet, that’s not unreasonable. But this is not flat-it’s a hillside. You need more of a setback.”

The first Highlands resident to speak at the hearing, April Verlato, an attorney and member of the Highlands HOA ARB, discussed Resolution 6770, a contract between the city and HOAs that grants HOAs design review authority. The scope includes the elements of size-mass, scale, height, length, and width. She raised the concept of size with the developer, but there is no maximum limit on square footage. Without knowing the actual square footage, which is used as a reference point, she said “we are unable to visualize how big in proportion to the other surrounding homes this one is going to be.”

Ms. Verlato also said that the HOA had offered to meet with the developer to discuss design reviews, but he had refused to do so, saying there could be no changes.

This issue has galvanized many other Highlands residents. “We did get caught off-guard . . . but there is a movement within the Highland Oaks HOA and within neighborhoods by people who want to see more control of what is going on and what’s being put up in the neighborhood,” said David Arvizu, a Highlands HOA ARB member.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Tears Of Chairman Mao: More Than $1.3 Trillion In Secret Cash Smuggled Out Of China In The Last 10 Years … Plus! Is Arcadia "Tongjian Town?"

Mao is crying.
(Mod: In case you've been wondering where the dough for those "all cash house buys" in the area has been coming from, here is a report from a news site called Quartz that neatly lays it all out. Apparently much of that money was illegally smuggled here.)

More than $1 trillion in secret cash sneaked out of China in the last 10 years (link) - China’s capital account might be closed—but it’s not that closed. Between 2003 and 2012, $1.3 trillion slipped out of mainland China—more than any other developing country—says a report (link) by Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a financial transparency group. The trends illuminate China’s tricky balancing act of controlling the economy and keeping it liquid.

GFI says the most common way money leaks out in the developing world is through fake trade invoices. The other big culprit is “hot money,” likely due to corruption—which GFI gleans from inconsistencies in balance of payments data.

In China, both activities have picked up since 2009. In fact, $725 billion—more than half of the outflows from the last decade—has left since 2009, just after the Chinese government launched its 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package.

Even after that wound down, the government encouraged investment to boost the economy, prodding its state-run banks to lend. Since loan officers dish out credit to the safest companies—those with political backing—this overwhelmingly benefited government officials and their cronies.

That’s left small private companies so starved for capital that they’ll pay exorbitant rates for shadow-market loans, which a lot of China’s sketchy trade invoicing outflows likely sneaked back in to speculate on shadow finance and profit from the appreciating yuan. Corrupt officials, meanwhile, shifted their ill-gotten gains into overseas real estate and garages full of Bentleys.

Those re-inflows inflate risky debt and had driven up the yuan’s value, threatening export competitiveness. China’s leaders were not exactly happy about this, and in March its central bank drove down the value of the currency in order to discourage hot money speculation on the yuan’s appreciation.

China’s policies leave it with few other options. To avoid the economic nosedive that likely would follow if the bad debt got written down, China’s leaders have the banks extending and re-extending loans, hoping to deleverage gradually.

That requires an ever-ballooning supply of money, though. The slowing of China’s trade surplus and foreign direct investment inflows leaves the financial system dependent on new sources of money—like speculative inflows from fake trade invoicing.

 The danger of this is apparent already. For example, the government’s June 2013 crackdown on fake trade invoicing caused a seize-up in liquidity, pushing banks close to a meltdown.

This precarious relationship with liquidity might partially explain “Operation Fox Hunt,” the crackdown on Chinese government officials who have fled China or transferred assets to family members abroad. Already, 329 “foxes” have been snagged, and the government just demoted around 1,000 officials (paywall) whose relatives abroad refuse to return to China.

Xi’s so-called anti-corruption crusade has boosted his populist bona fides with the people. But there’s likely more behind it than just public relations. With China’s real estate market in the doldrums, its economy slowing, and its leader cracking down, the “foxes” have more reason than ever to sneak their spoils overseas. Making sure they don’t isn’t just a matter of legality, but of protecting China’s financial system from freezing up once again.

Anti-Corruption Show Trials In China Take A Salacious Turn

(Mod: According to the following report in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, these "foxes" and their "flies" are apparently some quite frisky and frolicsome Communists. What would Mao think?)

At Chinese brothel, a room for Communist Party cadre fantasies (link): From offering Japanese schoolgirl uniforms to creating rooms tricked out with traditional Chinese wedding decor, China’s underground sex industry is always trying to keep up to date with its clients’ fantasies.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that one brothel decided to create rooms outfitted with all the trappings of a Communist Party official’s office.

Recent anti-graft crackdowns have seen tens of thousands of cadres busted for corruption, and along with fiscal crimes many have been accused by party disciplinarians of moral failings, including an offense that translates as “having multiple sex partners.”

When police recently raided a brothel in Yibin, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, they found rooms that looked exactly like government officials' offices, with role-play services available, the Shanghai-based Paper reported Thursday. The brothel providing such rooms was shut down by the police, and 40 people were arrested.

Photographs of the brothel’s “office” room showed a red wood desk and a big leather chair. With both a Communist Party and a Chinese national flag standing on the desk, the chambers bore an uncomfortable resemblance to President Xi Jinping’s office. The public got its first look at Xi’s office when he delivered a New Year’s speech on state-run China Central Television at the beginning of 2014.

The Chinese phrase tongjian, which means having an extramarital sexual relationship, has appeared in the Chinese press quite frequently of late. Although there’s no law in China against having an affair while married, internal Communist Party regulations prohibit officials from having such relationships.

Top-level “tigers,” like former national security czar Zhou Yongkang and rising political star Bo Xilai, have been accused of tongjian, as have countless “flies” -- grass-roots-level officials in small cities and counties. Women aren’t exempt, either: Two female officials were sacked in Shanxi province in late November, and extramarital relationships were among the misconduct charges leveled against them.

Prostitution is illegal in China, and those who operate underground brothels typically pay bribes to local officials or police to keep their businesses running. So perhaps “the office” was simply an attempt to better serve local cadres who may have hesitated to pursue tongjian in their real offices.

Some of those who read about the Chinese brothel online praised the operator’s creativity.

“The product manager has succeeded!” wrote one Weibo user from Shanghai. Said another from Zhejiang province: “Most of their clients are officials, right? This setting can definitely help those customers feel right at home.

(Mod: So if "tongjian" means "having an extramarital sexual relationship," and Arcadia is "The Mistress City of California," does that make our neighbor down the hill Tongjian Town? The shocking answer to that one could very well be "Yes!")